How to please everyone at Christmas

Whether you are entertaining for a vegan, someone who is nut-free, a fussy eater or a teetotaller, Ali Walsh gives you the perfect advice for a stress-free Christmas…

Christmas Dinner

Whatever your house rules about food, it’s never quite as easy when you have guests, especially at Christmas time. Let’s face it, having an overcrowded house and keeping everyone happy can be testing at the best of times, but adding in the issue of gluten can take it to a whole new level.

So below are some solutions on how to take others’ needs into consideration at Christmas while keeping it gluten-free. After all, you shouldn’t have to neglect your own diet and worry you’re going to be ill. The trick is to make everyone else feel special and included.

The Traditional

Most people have a family member desperate to keep Christmas as traditional as possible. They won’t understand why vegans need roast potatoes done in olive oil instead of goose fat and they’ll insist that turkey just isn’t turkey without bread sauce.

When you need to avoid gluten, the good news about trying to keep things traditional at Christmas is that most of the meal is naturally gluten-free. Problem areas are usually the trimmings. Thankfully, the gluten-free version is often every bit as delicious as its gluten-filled counterpart. Because the original reason for bread sauce was to use up slightly stale bread, using gluten-free bread actually works really well. It’s also good for stuffing.  Likewise, cornflour is particularly good for Yorkshire puddings and gravy. (Don’t think of Yorkshire’s as traditional?  And so the ‘What’s traditional at Xmas?’ debate begins!).

Tired of Turkey Alternative

Some people eagerly bang their knives and forks on the table in anticipation of white and dark meat. Others are less keen. Whether it’s memories of dry turkey or simply a penchant for an alternative, sometimes it’s better to try out something new. Whatever you choose, it must be big enough to feed everyone twice over – this is Christmas, after all. Possible options include beef or, especially if a guest doesn’t eat meat, an enormous salmon, although like the turkey you’ll need a big enough oven.

For those who aren’t keen on Christmas pudding, try a Christmas pudding ice cream.

Hot chocolate with melted snowman


Potential pitfalls: Christmas cake, stuffing

Depending on the type of nuts you need to avoid, you may wish to forego a chestnut stuffing and opt for homemade sage and onion. You’d be using gluten-free breadcrumbs anyway, and adding fresh herbs will make your stuffing that much nicer.

When it comes to Christmas cake, people often forget that marzipan has nuts in. The fact you can’t see a nut in it doesn’t help, but the almonds are most definitely there and need to be avoided, unless you fancy grabbing an EpiPen and dashing to A&E on Christmas Day.  If you’re making your own cake, you can use fondant instead of marzipan.

The Vegan Visitor

The curious thing about a lot of shop-bought food is that it’s often vegan when a homemade version isn’t. Don’t believe me? Take a look at custard powder, marzipan and pastry – not an egg in sight. Of course, the latter needs to be gluten-free and that often means eggs creep back in. But there are brands that cover all areas (such as Mrs Crimble’s Gluten-Free Pastry Mix).

So you’ve got the sweet stuff covered: you can make your own mince pies and serve them with custard (made up with soya milk instead of dairy), and you can cover the cake with marzipan or fondant (just check you’re using fondant and not gumpaste, which often contains egg).

Of course, that doesn’t solve the problem of what to serve for a gluten-free vegan main. Although you may be cooking seven types of veg, it’s a little unfair to serve up just veg and gravy to someone who doesn’t eat meat. So that’s where pastry triumphs again. You can use it for a set of individual spiced mushroom pies or an open vegetable tart. Even better, it can be made the day before so all you have to do is heat it in the oven.

The Fussy Eater

Potential pitfalls: numerous vegetables, dry turkey, fruit cake

There are few things that can rile a coeliac more than the person who can eat anything but chooses not to because they don’t like its texture/taste/smell. Now is not the time to debate their needs (tempted as you might be). Instead, try and persuade them to eat something
yummy with some clever tactics.

Food is always so much more tempting if you’ve made it yourself. And, let’s face it, on Christmas Day you can always do with another pair of hands in the kitchen. Assuming it’s a fussy child you’re feeding, you’ll need them to do jobs that don’t come with a health and safety warning.

  1. Basting the turkey. Show me a kid who’s not enthused by a turkey baster. Seriously, they’re good fun. But it does involve sucking up hot fat and blowing it out in the right place, so this is one for the slightly older child who you know you can trust. Given that basting the turkey usually ensures the meat is really juicy (and therefore tastes better), it should help your cause two-fold.
  2. Hide the vegetables in a sauce. You could put some in the gravy but they’re likely to be spotted. But what about serving up a vegetable sauce where you can’t see any of the veg?  Once your veg is cooked, pop it into a blender and invite them to press the button to squish it up. Just make sure the lid’s on tight!
  3. The old (Christmas) chestnut: custard with everything. Well, everything sweet. It’ll help get a mince pie down and possibly even some Christmas pud, although you may be better off serving a child-friendly pudding as well, like a steamed sponge, especially if you’ve invited them to sprinkle in the currants. And if you’re wondering, most sponge mixtures still work well with gluten-free self-raising flour.

Baked chicken for Christmas or New Year

The Teetotaller

Potential Pitfalls: Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, brandy butter

The main dread of the person avoiding alcohol at Christmas isn’t just the fact that it’s offered to them on an oh so frequent basis, but it’s also a time when food positively seems to ooze booze. If it’s not a posh jus (or gravy to us common folk) it’s a heavily-fed Christmas cake or brandy-soaked pudding.

Bringing a flaming pudding to the table is a wonderful Christmas tradition, but telling a teetotaller that the alcohol’s all burnt off may not be sufficient (just think of all the times when you’ve felt uncomfortable at responses to your queries about handling gluten). An alternative is to buy a fountain candle (usually used for cakes). The rocket-like flame is great fun and an inexpensive way of entertaining your guests, plus there’s less chance of losing an eyebrow.

Christmas cake traditionally has a fair amount of brandy in it, which is one of the reasons it keeps so well. But that doesn’t mean it has to, just as you’ve probably found it doesn’t need to have gluten, either. (Arguably one of the easiest cakes to make gluten-free is fruit cake because it doesn’t need to rise much.) So what are the alternatives? One popular method is to use hot tea to soak the fruit overnight instead, adding some orange zest for extra flavour. Alternatively, you can now buy pre-soaked fruit in the supermarkets (apple juice is the liquid used). This will save you the bother of overnight soaking (particularly if it’s rather close to Christmas and you’re pushed for time).

So there you have it: the options for a gluten- and nut-free vegan Christmas without alcohol. At the beginning of this article it would have sounded like the start of a bad joke.  Now you know it’s a Christmas laden with fountain candles, spiced pies and custard galore!

For more information, visit